Reporters Without Borders: China - 2003 Annual Report (Excerpt)
[...] The authorities also granted new
foreign TV channels the right to broadcast their programming in the People's
Republic. ATV, the privately-owned channel based in Hong Kong, was
authorised to broadcast to the millions of viewers in the southern province of
Guangdong. These accords were conditioned on respect for "the current
legislation on information content." Similarly, Australian press magnate
Rupert Murdoch's new Chinese channel followed the propaganda department's
orders. On the other hand, BBC World's satellite broadcasting to China
was suspended in July after it carried a report on the anniversary of Hong
Kong's return to China that referred to the banned Falun Gong spiritual
The only challenge to the party's monopoly of the news media came from the Falun Gong, which was persecuted [...] by the authorities and which had no authorised access to the Chinese media. On at least five occasions, Falun Gong followers [tapped] into cable or satellite TV services in order to transmit footage in support of their movement. Dozens of members were arrested for this and received long prison sentences.
In 2002, concern centred on Hong Kong, where the government proposed a
"national security" law that would threaten the fundamental freedoms
protected by the Basic Law negotiated before handover in 1997. This draft law,
which could take effect in 2003, introduces the charge of
"subversion," which is often used in China to imprison dissidents.
Journalists were specially targeted by the law, as it proposed prison sentences
for publishing "state secrets." A third of Hong Kong's journalists
said they were thinking of changing profession if the law were adopted and,
despite the criticism, the government had still not withdrawn it at the end of
2002. There was also an increase in self-censorship and in pressure on editorial
policies. The leading English-language daily, the South China Morning Post,
fired its Beijing bureau chief who was viewed as too independent by his editor
in Hong Kong, a former journalist with the very official China Daily.
Although the government has promised to let foreign journalists work freely
when the Olympic Games are held in Beijing in 2008, correspondents and visiting
journalists were still subject to strict control in 2002. The Communist Party
denied foreign correspondents the right to freely investigate dissidence,
clandestine religious movements, corruption, AIDS in Henan province, workers'
strikes, the North Korean refugees, natural catastrophes or the Tibetan and
At least seven foreign journalists were detained for two hours and threatened
by police in Beijing on 14 February. Two Associated Press reporters, an Agence
France-Presse photographer, two Reuters reporters and a BBC
journalist were arrested while covering a demonstration by about 40 Falun Gong
members in Tiananmen square, in the course of which some of them saw the police
use violence against the demonstrators. Police also detained a journalist with
the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) who happened to be in the
square on personal business. The police took the journalists to the nearest
police post, where they seized their film and video cassettes and one police
officer repeatedly threatened them. The Chinese authorities have harassed
foreign journalists trying to cover the Falun Gong since the movement was banned
in July 1999. According to the estimates of Reporters Without Borders, at least
50 representatives of the international press have been detained since then, and
some have been hit by police.
The economy editor of the Guangzhou Daily was arrested and questioned
by police for several hours in the southern city of Guangzhou after
inadvertently publishing two poems by the leader of the banned Falun Gong
movement, Li Hongzhi, on 30 March. The Hong Kong-based newspaper Wen Wei Po
said the two poems about suffering and spiritual health were published in the
newspaper's economy pages because they were thought to refer to economic
Police arrested Associated Press photographer Ng Han Guan on 14 April in Beijing because he was present when an American student waved a pro-Falun Gong banner in Tiananmen square. He was placed in police detention along with the student and was questioned for about three hours before being released.
Nine members of the outlawed Falun Gong were charged by a court in the
northeastern city of Changchun on 18 April [...] because of their alleged role
in [tapping into] a cable TV network in Changchun and Songyuan in early March to
broadcast two documentaries about the persecution of the Falun Gong since July
1999. Six others were arrested in the following weeks. The TV [interception] had
enraged the authorities. The police, especially "Bureau 610," had
spent several weeks hunting down Falun Gong followers in Changchun. After a
score of arrests, the authorities described it as "an organised and
premeditated crime with a clearly diabolical objective." On 21 April, the
Falun Gong announced that it had [intercepted] another cable TV network, this
time in the northeastern city of Harbin, again transmitting a documentary about
the persecution of Falun Gong followers. The authorities said the Harbin attempt
failed and the [practitioners] were arrested. The Falun Gong claimed that Luo
Gan, the head of public security in China, had gone to Harbin and had demanded
the arrest of 6,000 Falun Gong members by June. The trial of the 11 men and four
women arrested in the Changchun incident began on 18 September. On 20 September,
after being found guilty of damaging national broadcasting property and
conspiracy against public security, they were given sentences ranging from four
to 20 years in prison.
Four Falun Gong [practitioners] received sentences ranging from seven to 16
years in prison from a court in the southwestern city of Chongqing on 18 May for
hijacking a local television channel in January in order to broadcast a
programme about their outlawed movement. They were found guilty of
"sabotaging a television network."
The authorities on 23 June accused the Falun Gong of [intercepting] the Sinosat satellite signal, thereby disrupting the programming of nine national channels and six regional channels, replacing it with black screens or pictures of Falun Gong meetings. [...] The official news agency Xinhua said the pirate signals had come from Taiwan but this was denied by officials in Taipei and Taiwanese [practitioners] of Falun Gong. The authorities in Beijing repeated their accusations at the end of October after another attempted hijacking ascribed to the Falun Gong. There had also been a further incident in the week following 23 June, in which a Falun Gong message was transmitted on [an intercepted] TV signal in Laiyang in the eastern province of Shandong. The authorities said the message had appeared on screen for one minute, while a Hong Kong-based human rights group said it stayed on screen for 15 minutes. The same group reported a similar TV [interception] on 27 June in the coastal city of Yantai.
Falun Gong members [tapped into] local television's Channel 5 in
Baiyin in the central province of Gansu on 17 August. Baiyin residents said
programming was interrupted for 10-20 minutes by pictures of Falun Gong members
being persecuted by the police. The local newspapers did not report the
The Hong Kong government on 24 September published a draft national security
law proposing imprisonment and other heavy penalties for treason, secession,
subversion and theft of state secrets. Presented as an implementation of article
23 of the Basic Law negotiated before Hong Kong's handover in 1997, the draft
law had Beijing's stamp and was widely criticised as a threat to individual
freedoms, especially press freedom, as the concept of state secret was defined
in the vaguest of terms and could be used to arrest journalists for publishing
all manner of information. Furthermore, with penalties of up to seven years in
prison for publishing reports that incite treason, secession or subversion, the
law would reinforce self-censorship on subjects considered sensitive by the
mainland government. After its publication, senior Hong Kong officials warned
journalists about the way they use press freedom. Justice minister Elsie Leung
on 17 October said any report containing unsourced confidential information
would henceforth be treated as a "state secret." The Hong Kong
Journalists Association and the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association
addressed a statement to the authorities on 24 November calling for the
elimination of the more restrictive measures from the proposed law. It was
signed by 879 Hong Kong journalist and was backed by 26 international press and
human rights groups.
Complaints have been made to the international authority that regulates the
airwaves, but the Chinese government has never respected the undertakings it has
given. The US government's approaches to the Chinese authorities on this subject
have also yielded no concrete result.
The government stepped up jamming of Radio Free Asia's Mandarin service on 1 October, the day the service began broadcasting extracts of "Disidai," a book about the internal workings of the Communist Party leadership as it transfers power to the fourth generation. On 18 October, the authorities arrested a party veteran suspected of revealing information about the party and other "state secrets" to the book's Chinese author, who uses the pseudonym Zong Hairen.
Delegates were warned against loose talk with the press when the 16th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party began in Beijing on 8 November, although it was officially billed as one of the most open party gatherings ever. Any interview needed a prior request to the press centre, and delegates were not supposed to talk with journalists during the meetings. Only a small number of provincial delegate meetings were open to the press. Reuters said its reporters were snubbed several times by officials at the press centre, while Chinese journalists were threatened with prison sentences for any leak. At a press briefing on the eve of the opening, congress spokesperson Ji Bingxuan said the Chinese media would continue to be the "mouth" of the party, thereby dashing any hope that the new leaders would loosen its grip on the press.
The authorities briefly jammed CNN's satellite signal on 10 November, thereby censoring a CNN interview with dissident Fang Jue and a mention of the Falun Gong in a programme about the Chinese search for spiritual comfort as an alternative to materialist values.
In a speech to the Chinese Language Press Institute on 28 November, Hong
Kong's home affairs secretary Patrick Ho Chi-ping warned journalists that press
freedom could die if they violated ethical standards and allowed excessive
vulgarity. The Hong Kong Journalists Association accused him of trying to
discredit and intimidate the news media.
Ma Ling, the deputy editor of Ta Kung Pao, a pro-Beijing based in Hong Kong, and Li Ming, a reporter with the same newspaper, were pressured by the newspaper's management at the end of November to halt publication of their biography of China's new president, Hu Jintao.
The government announced on 7 December that Chinese journalists would henceforth have to pass tests on the press laws and the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party in order to obtain or maintain authorisation to practice their profession. Officials said this would encourage competition and improve standards. In practice, the tests could be used to weed out journalists who do not readily submit to the party's ideology.
Category: Falun Dafa in the Media